Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shoe Tossing As A Sign Of Contempt, and How It Intersects With Torah and Midrash

So fairly recently, an Iraqi journalist tossed his shoes at Bush at a press conference and shouted "It is the farewell kiss, you dog." (Making him a hero in the Arab world, and inspiring this Norwegian Flash game.) Apparently, tossing shoes, or showing the bottom of one's shoes, is a way of denigrating someone in Arab culture.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted,
The shoe represents the lowest part of the body (the foot) and displaying or throwing a shoe at someone or something in Arab cultures denotes that the person or thing is "beneath them." Showing the bottom of one's feet or shoes (for example, putting one's feet up on a table or desk) in Arab cultures is considered an extreme insult.[citation needed] Examples include Iraqi citizens smacking torn-down posters of Saddam Hussein with their shoes, and the depiction of President of the United States George H. W. Bush on a tile mosaic of the floor of the Al-Rashid Hotel's lobby, forcing all visitors entering the hotel to walk on Bush's face to enter the hotel.
I wonder if we can connect this to midrashim and or psukim, to grant us some additional insight. There is the famous midrash about the contract between Mordechai and Haman made in the desert:

The two delegates set out on their way to Persia at the same time. As their way took them through a desert they brought with them provisions for the journey. Haman, who was greedy, ate his all at once, while Mordechai allowed enough to remain for the whole journey. Soon Haman became very hungry and begged Mordechai to share the remainder of his fare with him. At first, Mordechai refused his request, but later, he relented on the condition that Haman agree to become Mordechai's slave. As they had no paper to upon which to write a contract, Haman wrote the following pledge upon the sole of Mordechai's shoe: "I, Haman the Agagite, have sold myself to Mordechai as his slave in consideration of bread."

Since then Haman could never forgive Mordechai for his humiliation, and he was in constant dread lest Mordechai enforce his slave claim over him.

Mordechai, of course, never dreamed of doing it. Later, however, when Haman became Prime Minister, and demanded that Mordechai bow down to him, Mordechai would merely remove his shoe and wave it at him. Haman had to hold his tongue and keep silent. The enraged Haman swore he would destroy Mordechai and all the Jews.

The fact that the contract was on the shoe, and the fact that Mordechai showed Haman the bottom of his shoe to demonstrate that Haman was below him could now, perhaps, take on an added significance.

Perhaps it can also give us added insight into chalitza.

ט וְנִגְּשָׁה יְבִמְתּוֹ אֵלָיו, לְעֵינֵי הַזְּקֵנִים, וְחָלְצָה נַעֲלוֹ מֵעַל רַגְלוֹ, וְיָרְקָה בְּפָנָיו; וְעָנְתָה, וְאָמְרָה, כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִבְנֶה אֶת-בֵּית אָחִיו. 9 then shall his brother's wife draw nigh unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say: 'So shall it be done unto the man that doth not build up his brother's house.'
י וְנִקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל: בֵּית, חֲלוּץ הַנָּעַל. {ס} 10 And his name shall be called in Israel the house of him that had his shoe loosed. {S}

Spitting clearly has connotations of degredation and contempt. And the fact that this fame follows him, as bet chalutz hanaal -- this seems to carry the same message. If so, perhaps we can say that loosening his shoe also is some sort of insult, as penalty for refusing to perform yibbum. And this might work well with the role of the shoe as it occurs in Arab culture.


Unknown said...

How good was Bush's response time??! :) (Admittedly off subject.)

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i was once yelled at in a Mizrahhi shul in Israel for sitting with one ankle up on the other knee, in what i've read is a particularly American form of crossing your legs

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

also, a friend of mine who went to צה"ל said that aversion to the soles of shoes is a strong taboo among both Muslims and Jews from the Middle East — he knew people in the army who would instinctively rearrange other people's shoes if they left them lying upside down or on their sides, because the sight of the sole literally distressed them.

Anonymous said...

Could it be because of the MEdrash this week (strange I know) that after the Brothers sold Yosef They bought Shoes MAybe it got into The Muslim tradition and Hence disrespect Far fetched yet an Idea non the Less you would have to ask A Muslim


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